I realize I am awake. I open my eyes. I look over to my desk. I see an iPod, a laptop computer, and a spindle of blank DVD’s. I am alone with the iOther. The world in which I live is full of technology designed to inform, alleviate, and entertain. Perhaps it is there to rescue me. The world I find myself in motivates me to seek understanding. Some may call this faith seeking understanding. I entered into this conversation with Emmanuel Levinas with the desire to understand what is going on in my life, in the church...in the world. Here “postmodern” is used as a badge to distinguish the old from the new. Another way to harness the “us verses them.”
It seems to me that the “postmodern” camps set out to carve out territory like the colonists sought to carve out their legacy in the hostile Dark Continent. Laying waste to places that people have living for hundreds of years under the assertion that they are bringing civility and it is their duty to inform these poor savages that there ways are not good enough.
I have no idea what it means to be “postmodern.” I figured that if one were truly postmodern they would be kicking it with Buck Rodgers or Howard the Duck. I had never heard of the name Levinas prior to February 2008. I assure you that I will not soon forget his name.
He has penetrated my heart and left the other there staring me down. The other haunts me at night. I see the face setting upon me as I begin to yell at the student crossing the street in front of me, on their mobile phone no care to the world, as I am given the magic green arrow giving me the right to turn. I fear that I can never live up to Levinas’ gesturing towards a God that is “otherwise than being”, for I am bound to this system of definitions, language, and symbols. So bound that I fear God shall always evade me, present just beneath the surface my system upholds.
I am not sure if I understand Levinas’ the other much if at all. I do know I am moved deeply by the following portion of Hesse’s Siddhartha that illustrates for me my understanding of the other.
“He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with an infinitely painfully opened mouth, the face of a dying fish, with fading eyes—he saw the face of a new-born child, red and full of wrinkles, distorted from crying—he saw the face of a murderer, he saw him plunging a knife into the body of another person—he saw, in the same second, this criminal in bondage, kneeling and his head being chopped off by the executioner with one blow of his sword—he saw the bodies of men and women, naked in positions and cramps of frenzied love—he saw corpses stretched out, motionless, cold, void— he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds—he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni—he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of them died, each one only transformed, was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time having passed between the one and the other face—and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along and merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of water, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha's smiling face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips…Not knowing any more whether time existed, whether the vision had lasted a second or a hundred years, not knowing any more whether there existed a Siddhartha, a Gotama, a me and a you,…being enchanted and dissolved in his innermost self,…The face was unchanged, after under its surface the depth of the thousandfoldness had closed up again, he smiled silently, smiled quietly and softly, perhaps very benevolently, perhaps very mockingly, precisely as he used to smile…”
I meditate often on the face that captures me. The face delivers wisdom, fear, and comfort to me. The face demands that I not forget them. I am compelled to hold on to them. I intentionally remember, wishing that in some instances that I could go back and touch them, hold them one last time. I remember them perhaps because I fear I will soon have no one to remember me.
I look at the line “he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it” and am reminded of the people I grew to know during my time in Africa.I can never forget them. I have tried to ignore them.
Their face finds me when I seek to consume. When I am alone I remember them, I try to become them. I see the young boy watching his families herd. I see the Maasai chief talking to me with his golden crocked smile. I see the children that have been ravaged by war and mutilated by life. I see the terror in their eyes as they share their story. I see the joy in others eyes as they recount their story of survival.
The guilt of being left behind. It makes me wonder if that same guilt is present in the fundamental teaching of The Rapture. Are those left behind filled with remorse and guilt?Are those in heaven weeping and gnashing their teeth at those that were left behind? Does Jesus not mourn the loss of the other?
I wonder about the other as the river of faces flows into and out of my mind caressing the soft shores of memories and the jagged cliffs of existence.I awake in a panic. I beg God to share peace with me. I am filled with terror, the terror that I am here presently, that I exist. Then that I have no idea what my existence means. I wonder how this veil will be lifted. Then I wonder what shall be revealed. Then I return to fear and run from the face of the other gesturing me towards the divine.
I search for something to deliver peace. I go to my computer. I search for someone, someone out there. I want closeness, to not be alone, to deny the reality of my finitude, my end, my death. I am dead there typing, seeking the iOther.
I want to encounter something, someone. I want the reality of relationship and comradely. I seek it on the internet. I write an article. I catch up on the latest news. I get to know other through their blogs. I get them. I invest in them. I am in proximity to them.